South Africa’s national animal is the springbok, an antelope – and it is the name of the National Rugby team. Known for their green and gold uniforms which they have worn since 1906, with a leaping springbok emblazoned in gold on the rugby shirt, with their white shorts, the Springboks are one of the world’s top rugby teams and frequently bring joy to their followers and ardent rugby supporters. Local supporters call them “Bokke” and “Amabokoboko”.
The springbok antelope (Antidorcas marsupialis) is found in dry areas of South Africa from the karoo to the southwest into the Namib desert in Namibia. They get their name from the Afrikaans words “spring” which means jump and the word “bok” which means buck or antelope. This is because the springbok has a unique pronking or stotting jump where its legs are stiffened as the animal leaps into the air. Jumps can be as high as 2 meters (6 foot).
Springboks feed mostly on succulent plants and shrubs and remarkably can go without drinking water for years absorbing all they need for survival from the succulents that they eat. Springboks are known as high quality game meat and are bred by some farmers to supply the meat markets and restaurants too. The meat is tasty and goes well with a pepper sauce.
In their natural habitat, springboks survive and thrive in the arid and water scarce areas of South Africa where few natural predators can survive. It has been recorded in the past that they migrated from the Karoo to the Namib in the early 1800’s. Too many fences exist now for this to be seen happening en masse as it was then. That behavior was known as “trekbok”. Another delightful word from Afrikaans that has been now adapted into the English language is the word “trek”. Its exact translation would be something like migrate or move from place to place without the sense of nomadic movement – but rather a sense of purpose.
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Females weigh in around 27 kilograms and males can be found around the 45 kilograms mark. Both sexes have horns with female horns about 70% smaller. The horns are straight at the base and curved slightly to the back. There are 3 varieties of springbok, the typical, pure black and pure white. Black stripes extend from their eyes to their mouth. Another unique characteristic of these antelope is their dorsal skin fold flap. This distinguishes them from gazelles – such as the Thomson’s Gazelle which is so frequently thought to be a springbok in the Kruger Park. Sadly, the tourist would need to venture to the Free State, Karoo and areas like Botswana and Namibia to see a genuine springbok.
Or of course, if you are in South Africa and the Springboks are playing a game of rugby nearby, we highly encourage you to buy a ticket and watch the game. “Go Bokke”